Amid the controversy and disdain surrounding slugger Barry Bonds, one indisputable truth remains: He is one of the greatest hitters of all time.
He has the track record to prove it, with 14 All-Star games, seven MVP awards and 12 Silver Sluggers to his name. But his name and resumé are tainted, stamped with the asterisk of baseball's steroid era, when Bonds became the poster child for performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds' alleged steroid use kept him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first four years on the ballot. It's curious, then, that early reports suggest his chances of induction this year (to be officially announced Jan. 18) are increasing.
Baseball's baddest villain might be on the verge of the Hall of Fame.
Members of the Baseball Writer's Association of America (BBWAA) determine by vote which eligible players reach the Hall of Fame. A player must appear on 75 percent of submitted ballots to earn a spot in Cooperstown.
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Though ballots aren't officially revealed until next week, some BBWAA members often release them beforehand. As of Jan. 10, Bonds appears on 64.4 percent of public ballots, according to ballot-tracking extraordinaire Ryan Thibodaux. The slugger stood above 70 percent last week, a huge jump from his 44.3 percent finish just last year.
Former All-Star- and Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens, who also allegedly took steroids, sits at 63.9 percent after a 45.2 percent finish in 2016.
Bonds' percentage could still drop considerably as final ballots tally up. But even if he isn't inducted in 2017, the narrative on Barry Bonds is shifting.
The home run king
Bonds' reputation remains something of a mixed bag.
With MLB records for home runs in a season (73) and career (762), he's the home run king. But his murky ties to performance-enhancing drugs and steroid use discredit those stats, some say. Do towering home runs matter if Bonds is a cheater?
It's worth noting that Bonds was putting up MVP numbers long before the bulky Barry Bonds routinely sent baseballs into San Francisco's McCovey Cove. He allegedly began using steroids after the 1998 season. He was the National League MVP three times before that.
And of course, because so many (including himself) deemed Bonds the greatest of all time, his ego created a team culture that pretty much catered to Bonds.
He missed practices. He had a personal lounge chair in the locker room. He was standoffish with the media, fans and teammates.
Hall of Fame voting rules are dense and complex (read them here if you're into that sort of thing). But for Bonds' sake, this is what you really need to know.
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
And therein lies the issue.
Bonds' ability, record and contributions are undeniably great. But the "character" clause has clearly kept him out of the Hall of Fame the past few years. Some still view him as baseball's bad boy, the symbol of an era marred by cheaters.
So what changed?
A very different Barry Bonds
Bonds seemed to shed that prickly exterior over time, along with the physical bulk that characterized his steroid use.
Now, 10 years after his final game, Bonds is friendly and respectful. He spent the 2016 season as Miami's hitting coach in addition to mentoring All-Star outfielder Dexter Fowler, who will sport No. 25 this year to honor Bonds.
Slowly but surely, Bonds has evolved beyond the villainous role he created for himself as a player, according to people including Bonds.
"Hell, I kick myself now, because I'm getting great press [since being more cooperative], and I could have had a trillion more endorsements, but that wasn't my driving force," he said in 2016, per SportsOnEarth.
"I knew I was in the midst of that image, and I determined at that point that I was never going to get out of it ... so I just said, 'I've created this fire around me, and I'm stuck in it, so I might as well live with the flames.'"
But there's another development that might be boosting Bonds' chances of becoming a Hall of Famer.
On Dec. 6, the Today's Game Era committee, which votes managers, executives and umpires into the Hall of Fame, inducted former commissioner Bud Selig.
As much as Bonds embodied the steroid era, Selig is responsible for letting it happen.
Many criticized Selig, who served as MLB's commissioner from 1994 to 2015, for looking the other way. In 2006, long after the steroid era's peak, he instituted stiffer drug testing policies, though critics say he didn't act soon enough, giving in to the thrill of watching juiced up ballplayers smack fastballs a mile through the sky just as baseball withered in popularity compared to football and basketball.
So expect to see some Hall of Fame voting rationale along these lines: If the guy at the helm of baseball's darkest era gets inducted, so should the players who flourished in it.
Maybe time heals all wounds, and the stench of the steroid era is fading as time marches on. Perhaps voters are becoming more forgiving as Bonds repairs his image. Either way, Bonds' eventual induction feels inevitable. Selig may have just been the tipping point.
Former Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry said it best.
"Pretty soon, you've got to forgive him and put him in."